Springfield, OR, United States | Member Since 2011
Hardluck Hank: Screw the Galaxy was a surprise sci-fi treasure, mixing the right amount of humor, sci-fi and inanity to make for a very entertaining book.
Basketful of Crap picks up years after the first book but doesn't quite have same lovable charm. The story doesn't pick up much on the previous rather-important-seeming adventure and sluggishly meanders. It never seems to have a clear direction. Also, Hank seems a little less refined. Characters seem less developed, Hank is a bit dopier, and many new characters feel introduced to be killed off.
Its not bad, but Hank doesn't seem to have evolved much, instead devolved into always dim-witted, always-hungry brute looking for nearest bathroom. It wasn't terrible, but just a bit of disappointment.
Liam Owen's performance yet again is spot on, in his Patrick Warburton inspired delivery for Hank.
Up Until Now accurately simulates the experience of being trapped broken elevator in one-sided conversation with William Shatner for 10 hours. Shatner's stories have the rhythm of free form beat poetry, meandering through Shatner's over-sense of self, lit through his mind's prism. From his refractions, Shatner attempts to tell his life story. Surprisingly, it's fantastic, and has a brilliance that's never seems quite intentional.
I was recommended it by brother to which my reaction was a resounding "Eh" as I wouldn't describe myself as fan of Shatner.... but when he mentioned the audiobook was narrated by Shatner, I was sold. It's probably one of the fully most realized explorations "Poe's Law" where the parodying and lines of reality are blurred. Between William's tendency to self-plug as an oft-joke (yet, it's not really a joke) and jumping between pivotable life events, you actually get a much more interesting read than a usual straight linear biography. It's funny, sad, serious, self-aggrandizing and mocking. I enjoyed it probably more than I should have...
Digital warfare generally conjures up bad science fiction imagery and seems more fanciful fiction than reality... However, that changed when Stuxnet was discovered, a carefully multiple pronged attack against Iran's secretive nuclear weapons program.
"Countdown to Zero Day" chronicles the discovery Stuxnet from its origins in Belarus, and follows the painstakingly detailed researched conduncted by a truly international cast, from Symantec researchers in the United States, Kaspersky Labs in Russia and security firms in India.
Kim Zetter carefully introduces the mystery of who wrote the Stuxnet virus and takes plenty of intermissions to explain the instability and insecurity of industrial control systems, and the very real threats they yield, as told by real world incidents, controlled tests and government experts assessment.
The book is measured, and isn't written as a fear-mongering piece, advocating more security but rather how the United States rushed head first into a new domain of espionage and war without ever fully considering the ramifications. It's painfully damning George Bush Jr and Barrack Obama's administrations.
Joe Ochman is almost a non-entity, transparently blending into the content and I mean this as a positive. I barely registered him as I was lost within the content. He's exceptionally easy to listen to, and never distracting. For a book that requires mostly narration, he's a great match.
Kim Zetter is extremely versed in his technology, and painstakingly details each major reveal in the case of Stuxnet as a hodgepodge of global researchers chase the rabbit continually further down the hole.Zetter isn't afraid to critique, often using quotes between security firms and government representatives to express the problematic nature of our digital platform. Towards the end, Zetter quotes and deconstructs the mantra, NOBUS (Nobody but us) used by the NSA, as an inherently flawed and naive view of cyber-security. Essentially, the inaction of government agencies to report weaknesses, flaws and glitches to save as a goodie bag for the United States puts everyone at risk as its arrogant to assume the United States will be the only ones who can use an exploit, and the "digital missiles" can be caught, deconstructed and fired back. In digital warfare.
Having read, Mark Bowden's Worm, about Conficker, Zetter avoids pandering and cuts into the technical aspects without apology. It's sure to alienate less technical readers. Those unfamiliar with patch Tuesday and the significance of out-of-band updates from Microsoft, or even what a zero-day exploit is, may want to start with Worm as a primer.
This book isn't for everyone due to the technical nature of it. I could easily see an average reader getting lost or eyes glazing over at times. As someone who's livelihood is tied web development, and followed stuxnet in the news, this book is fascinating. I remember clearly being blown away when the MD5 collision attack was discovered as it essentially confirmed that Stuxnet was made by nation-state actors.
In the end, it's wild ride, stranger than fiction journey that involves international conspiracies, assassinations, wildly intelligent researchers across the entire globe. By the end, while you never learn who the faces are behind Stuxnet, you'll have zero doubts about which nations were behind it.
Harry Markopolos can be grating at times, between his overuse of "zingers" when describing the SEC ( "couldn't find a bee in a beehive"), overemphasis on his Greek heritage, and his reveling in his own self paranoia. Markopolos seems to reveling in the idea of himself as a pistol packing gumshoe, walking the lonely streets of NYC.... and yes, our hero does carry a side-arm, as he reminds us several times.
However, Markopolos does warrant some self-congratulation as he's the lone-voice who repeatedly tried to bring the Madoff Ponzie scheme to light. The book could have been one giant, "I told you so" instead reads a manual of how the SEC failed and surprisingly, some sound advice on how to fix it.
The book doesn't quite outstay its welcome but felt slightly more drawn out than necessary. During the entire book, probably the most fascinating factor is we never quite get to know Madoff, nor does Markopolos extrapolate or even infer what Madoff must have been thinking or feeling. Most of the book, Madoff is a distant figure, far off in an ivory tower. Harry never does face his foe, but instead his beast to slay is the SEC itself, the regulatory agency charged with managing the market.
Even with my fairly pedestrian understanding of the underpinnings of investment banking, it was interesting, damning, and enjoyable.
Lastly, Scott Brick's melancholy narration is perfect for the tone of the book, and helps take a little of the edge off Harry Markopolos . The only breaks in the narration are for the so-so cameos by the author and his crew, and a very painful five minutes when Michael Orcrant, reads his own words. Other than that, Brick is a winner.
The Abyss is the start of a third series all set in Hamilton's incredibly dense and imaginative Common Wealth, a futuristic society of humans set after humans have mastered worm hole travel and the ability to live indefinitely.
If you haven't read Pandora's Star + Judas Unchained and The Void trilogy, the Abyss isn't the place to jump in. The events of the The Abyss take place before and during the events of The Void, but from the perspective of the playboy capitalist, Nigel Sheldon, and a few new comers. The starts with Paula Mayo, the closest thing to a main character to the expansive cast as she's tasked with finding Sheldon on behalf of the Raiel to enter the Void. We're re-introduced to a few old faces but mostly a new faces.
The events take place within the Common Wealth, and the world of the Void, and a new threat, The Fallers.
The strength lies in the story's meta-fantasy and Hamilton's ability to world build a universe where the humans still feel human despite thousands of years of technology. I've yet to find a series that I can compare to Hamilton's Commonwealth. It's hyper sexed, crass, occasionally violent, dense, sometimes confusing with the amount of detail but ultimately the best series I can name I've read with some truly memorable characters
Caine Riordan, no matter the situation, always seems to have the upperhand, be it surprise assassination attempts or interstellar diplomacy, the point of exhaustion.
The book starts off a bit slow, a bit of "What does all this mean?" Caine, formerly a journalist and analyst wakes to find he's been woken from Cryosleep for 13 years and he's missing 100 hours (give or take) of his memory leading up to the events that put him in cryostasis.
From there, Caine is recruited into a shadowy organization without much choice. However, despite his disposition, rarely does Caine encounter a challenge he can't defeat.
The book stumbles a few times with the awkward timelines, revisiting events that unfold but adding details that weren't told first go around. You're not given the full story with a chance encounter, and then only when the book takes a giant leap forward we get the full scoop. It feels slightly haphazard and somewhat confusing. I imagine reading it perhaps it might be a little more natural.
The book goes in a few unexpected directions, in a good way but even in the most unlikely circumstances, Caine has an unnerving grasp. Other characters get a little more honest treatment, and the book really picks up after a hostage situation.
That said, occasionally the logic of the diplomacy seemed slightly off. Good, but not great. Gannon isn't afraid of complexity or depth which is appreciated. The end cuts off without much fanfare and we're reminded that we can continue in Caine's adventure in the follow up book and given a 15 minute taste of the sequel.
Overall, I enjoyed it but found myself backtracking a few times just to make sure I caught everything.
First before anything else, Liam Owen, deserves some sort of award for his performance of Screw the Galaxy. Liam draws quite a bit of inspiration from Patrick Warburton's candace, nailing Hank's narrative, while giving a depth and variety for the rest of the cast. Generally I'm not a fan of post-processing voices, but for a few particular aliens, mild effects are used sparingly to add to the gamut of alien voices, making for one of the best produced audiobooks.
The story follows Hank, a well-liked and impartial contractor despite being an oafish quad-barrel shotgun wielding goon with violent tendancies in a backwater crime ridden space station. Hank constantly downplays his intelligence but manages to sharp enough to generally navigate through tricky situations.
Screw The Galaxy is humorous, even drawing a few outloud chuckles as I listened. Its a fun listen, albeit fairly tame for a book about a space station of gamblers, gangs, casinos, prostitutes, small time drug dealers and contraband. The story flows well, from introduction to Hank and his world to his soon-to-be adventure and while some of it feels a bit predictable at times, there's a pretty good twist.
While it'd probably make for a decent read, its hard to separate Steven Campbell from Liam Owen's perfect delivery.
The only quibbles is the very end could have used just a few more pages as it's a bit unclear on the status of a few things, and the title "Hard Luck" seems wrong as despite Hank getting smacked around, seems to have pretty decent luck but I suppose "Pretty decent Luck Hank" doesn't have that same ring.
The first Atopia chronicles drew quite a bit of likeness to the Wool series by Hugh Howey, mostly due to its narrative structure and ebook distribution as a series of short stories following separate characters to be stitched together to form a larger novel. Beyond that, subject and writing style, the comparisons mostly draw to a close.
Dystopia Chronicles abandons the previous format for a full fledged novel, with much more fluid transitions between its characters and picks up immediately after the Atopia Chronicles, with Bob and the gang of Atopian castaways left to find Cid's missing body and hopefully stop a conflict between technocractic micro-nations.
The meandering story jumps from an exposition of "What if..." into a labyrinth of pseudo-religion, secret societies and so forth, some of which works and some of which doesn't. Despite the avalanche of ideas and sophisticated tech presented in the first book, it was easy in enough to comprehend. The second feels a little more dissonant, I found myself relistening to a few segments of the book (perhaps I needed a refresher). For example: early in the book Bob has an interaction in a small town that leads to a man brandishing a gun at him. I found myself bouncing back, thinking "How did we get here?". Sometimes a little more pretext or background was needed as Mather seems eager to "just get on with it" more often than not.
The conclusion is underwhelming and felt a bit like a cop-out. I'm sure it'll be divisive: some loving it and some hating it. Overall, I enjoyed the first book more but found myself becoming more distracted with The Dystopia Chronicles. It was enjoyable but lacked the deftness that I felt the first book had.
The ending seems pretty finite, so I'm expecting we won't see any more in the Atopia series. If for some reason Mathew picks it back up, I may skip.
Year Zero starts off with a decent premise:
The rest of the universe is wildly infatuated with our music after it was discovered in 1970 and then redistributed the music The catch is:. Aliens who reach a certain point in technology are part of a multi-stellar conglomerate of civilized worlds. Due to the level of technology required to be a civilized world, the creatures in the civilized worlds dedicate their lives to the pursuit of art and consume the art in the way that honors the culture that created it.
Earth's intellectual property laws around music are unique. The copyright laws mean that the civilized worlds have been pirating our music, every song in existence for 40 years. Due to our overly egregious copyright laws (up to $150,000 USD per song) and the civilized world's deep commitment to the arts, the infractions threatened to bankrupt the entire universe.
Its a good start, humorous in theory.... except it isn't. The power of earth music is so great that it caused massed die-offs in civilized worlds but because, y'know, because classic rock is that good... to all sentient life. The main character, a low level lawyer with name that is similar to a once famous pop-star (cue the laughs), is the point of contact with two very human aliens who immediately accepts the story presented by the aliens at face value.
While its commentary on the cynicism of our IP laws in the world are entertaining and mild side-steps into pop culture and tech are clever, the story isn't so much. It's a bit of let down. The potential is there, but rarely capitalized on or explored. I'm not familiar with Rob Reid but this felt like a rookie novel as characters are pretty vanilla.
John Hodgman does a decent job with the material, although occasionally an alien voice or two are slightly grating (but are described as such) and even kicks out a half-sung rendition of a boy-band ballad, which in the wrong hands, could have been abysmal.
After reading Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet (buying most on a whim during a sale), I've avoided military sci-fi. Campbell's one-dimensional, wooden characters combined with his over-usage of a few basic human interactions (I started to cringe each time I heard "smiled without humor") and snoozefest battles seem to the be gold standard of the sub-genre. I'm happy to say that Christopher G. Nuttall is a much more capable writer than Campbell. Ark Royal occasionally falls victim to a few repeated issues, a character who has a relationship with a younger character "old enough to be her father" was constantly restated to the point of awkwardness and it falls victim to standard military fiction tropes like "all reporters are idiots" and "all bureaucrats are morons". Ark Royal also doesn't venture too much out of safety, but none of the main characters are infallible, each with their own internal conflicts. The characters are much closer to actual people opposed the Lost Fleet. Overall, its a pretty minimalist sci-military fiction, there's no real exploration of the universe at large and minimal world building beyond just enough to get you into cockpit of the space battles.
I picked this book up due to the comparisons to Battlestar Galactica. Beyond the obvious, an out-of-date carrier with a ruff and tumble crew, Ark Royal lacks the nuance or interplay between the enemy and humanity. I enjoyed the story but wasn't enamored by it either.
Ralph Lister has a great guttural commanding voice but doesn't have much dexterity for conjuring up unique voices or inflections for each character. I wasn't annoyed or put off by him but I found myself wishing he had more range. He's better than average, and doesn't detract from the material but doesn't add to it either.
I'll probably try out the second book in this series, perhaps it'll pick up steam.
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